“Mama, I Want To Sing” Celebrates 40th Anniversary

I collect Playbills and theatre memorabilia. The total amount I have accumulated over the decades is staggering. Within my collection are a few select programs from shows that inspired, educated, and transformed me along with many other theatergoers. Pictured is one such original program from my collection. “Mama, I Want To Sing” hit the stage uptown 40 years ago with high notes and divine spirit. It is the longest running Black off-Broadway musical in the history of American theater and returns to El Museo’s El Teátro (formerly The Heckscher Theatre) this month.

Back in the early 80’s, Vy Higginsen and husband Ken Wydro co-wrote, produced, and directed this work with musical direction by Kevin McCoy and Greg Kelly. I was fortunate to catch one of the 2,800 performances that ran for eight years at The Heckscher Theatre in East Harlem. The show went on to tour throughout the U.S., Europe, Japan, and the Caribbean before returning to Harlem in 2011.

The ecumenical plot continues to resonate today as a beautiful and talented young singer is lured towards the deceptively gilded path to and seedy side of stardom via pop music. However, as a child of the church, her family has conflicting plans for her singing success inside or outside of the tabernacle. Her pursuit of the limelight is set aflame with conflict between her and her preaching mother, who also seeks a career in the R&B sector. A mix of music genres, pop culture, and deep roots in family, faith and church ensues.

Over the years, the production has featured Chaka Khan, Cece Winans, Shirley Ceasar, Stephanie Mills, Regina Bell, Cissy Houston, Denise Williams, Tisha Campbell, Ramona Keller, Stacy Francis, Mica Paris, Juliet Lorna Courtney (now staring on Broadway in & Juliet).

The current cast of “Mama, I Want to Sing!” includes: Letrice Arlene Cherry-Stardivaat as Mama, Dawn Joyner and Leah Stewart, sharing the role of Sister Carrie, Richard Hartley and Lamont O’Neal, sharing the role of Rev. Winter, and Carlton Ellen as The Mister of Music. Young actresses Asa Sulton, Elise Silver, and Faith Cochrane alternate in the lead role of Doris Winter.

The cast also includes: Jaron K. Fields, Barry Manderson, Deana Cowan, Asia Desheilds, Lateria Powell, Khyra Cunningham, Melonie B. Smith, Jonique Edwards, Hannah Asencio, Gloria Anderson, Shaterrica Hyder, Sanaa Lee, Domonique Dawkins, Neil Watt, Kaiya Stevens, Kamal Morales, Cherise Gissentanner, and Turner Messer.

Here is the performance schedule: February 23 at 7:30PM, February 24 at 7:30PM, February 25 at 4:00PM and 7:30PM, February 26 at 4:00PM (Opening Night), March 1 at 7:30PM (ASL interpreted performance), March 2 at 7:30PM, March 3 at 7:30PM, March 4 at 4:00PM, and 7:30PM, March 5 at 4:00PM, March 8 at 7:30PM, March 9 at 7:30PM, March 10 at 7:30PM, March 11 at 4:00PM and 7:30PM, and March 12 at 4:00PM.

There will also be student matinees on: March 2 at 10:00AM and March 9 at 10:00AM.

This celebration of the show’s anniversary will guarantee some mighty voices shaking the rafters and dancing in the aisles.

Can I get an Amen up in here?!

Mama I Want To Sing

El Museo’s El Teatro
1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
Call: 212-280-1045

Photo Credits: P. K. Greenfield, Carol Rosegg and Tao Battice.